Probation is something judges often use to forego putting a person behind bars. It is common for lower-level crimes or for first-time offenders.
If you get a sentence that includes probation in Pennsylvania, you may think of it as a second chance since you are not heading to prison or jail. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports there are some who believe the system is broken and needs overhauling to really offer second chances.
When on probation, your probation officer will give you a list of rules you must follow. Some of these rules are minor, but any rule on the list could end in a probation violation. If you have a violation, you will go to jail and typically receive jail time for the violation.
Minor infractions can be costly on the system because not only do they include the cost of housing you in jail but also it extends your time on probation. This adds costs to the system for your probation officer and supervision.
Probation is said to be a second chance, but it offers very little assistance. The main point is to report to your probation officer and stay out of trouble, but the state does not provide you with transportation if you need it or training to find a job. It essentially dumps you back on the street where you have to figure out how to pick yourself up. This commonly leads to additional issues and violations, trapping people in the system.
Some people suggest changing the system to allow for real opportunities to better yourself and avoid ending up behind bars. Suggestions include more leniency for minor infractions and additional support within the system to help people find employment and get back on their feet and away from crime.